The SFA have decided to stick to their guns and stay in Glasgow. Ruairidh Campbell weighs it up.
After months of meetings, debates and even a delayed response, it's finally confirmed that Hampden Park will remain the home of Scottish Football. Having been embroiled in a stiff battle with the Scottish Rugby-owned BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Hampden Park will now switch hands, the SFA having purchased the historic stadium for £5 million from Queen’s Park FC.
Although a discussion often had at a supporter level, the prospect of leaving Hampden only made it into the upper echelons of the SFA board as they prepared to renegotiate the lease which expires in 2020. The stadium itself has done little to excite fans in recent years – much in line with the performances of the national team – which has led many to question whether it really is the most suitable venue for Scottish Football. A move to the home of Scottish Rugby in Edinburgh would have offered increased capacity, improved transport links and a supposedly improved atmosphere, yet in the eyes of many, it was simply not worth the move across the M8 from Scottish football’s spiritual home.
Indeed, many of the "improvements’ Murrayfield offered did little to excite football fans. A higher capacity is worthless when fewer than 18,000 fans show up to Hampden on a Monday evening to watch Scotland play Albania. Although Murrayfield does benefit from a tram stop, anyone who has had to travel by train after an international rugby match in the capital will be aware of the chaos that ensues attempting to board a ScotRail service from Haymarket.
The decision itself is one that has split fans. What has been accepted is that although Hampden can provide a good atmosphere, it requires the capacity crowds of big match days. Anything less and the noise quickly drains; the gulf of the old athletics track leaving fans too far from the action, particularly behind the goals. There is a similar problem, however, in the capital; those who regularly frequent BT Murrayfield had similar complaints about the distance from the stands to the pitch, something that would only be further exemplified by the fact that a football pitch is smaller than its rugby equivalent. Followers of Edinburgh Rugby will be perfectly aware of how quiet a near-empty Murrayfield can sound.
Nonetheless, the decision to purchase the stadium from Queen’s Park for £5 million offers the opportunity for stadium redevelopment. However, it is doubtful that the SFA will favour the overall reduced capacity of constructing two new stands on either end, this seems an unlikely route to follow. We are being promised improved transport links in the area, making it easier than ever to get to and from games, particularly for those travelling from outside Glasgow. If the SFA do however want to boost the numbers for the midweek games they are going to have to address the elephant in the room: ticket prices.
To entice families to a corner of Glasgow at 7:30pm on a Monday night is hard enough before you even consider the £30 ticket price. To attract larger crowds, cheaper tickets simply have to be considered. Only when you have a brand and a team the nation is proud to back can you realistically hope to increase costs for games that provide little attraction to watch. Former captain Scott Brown and Steven Naismith were among those to voice their frustration at the SFA for not considering other options. Both believe that the smaller midweek games should be moved to more suitable venues with Tynecastle and Easter Road touted as options.
On the whole, however, many seem pleased that the SFA will remain based at Hampden for the foreseeable future. Despite its obvious drawbacks, by progressing from tenants to owners of the stadium, there is the opportunity to look to improve facilities and the match day experience for fans. For now, however, the general consensus among fans and supporters seems to be the exploration of smaller stadiums to at least try and create some sort of atmosphere on games that are less likely to draw in capacity crowds at Hampden. Until the national team are truly back playing at a higher level, the SFA need to do everything they can to make it as attractive as possible to support Scotland on match days.